How the Moon Messes With Your Sleep

A new look at old data gives credence to a long-suspected phenomenon

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We are all, quite literally, lunatics—and I mean that in the nicest way possible. It is the moon, after all, that is responsible for the luna part of that word—and the moon has always made us at least a little crazy. Over our long history we have been charmed by it, spooked by it, seduced by it. We kiss by the moon, go to war by the moon, we spent $25 billion—in 1960s money, no less—to go to the moon. So it’s hardly a surprise that the moon is in some very real ways inside of us all.

The human menstrual cycle is the best-known example of the way our bodies—over millions of years of evolution—have synchronized themselves to the rhythms of the moon. Less well-known is the lunar link to the electrochemistry of the brain in epileptic patients, which changes in the few days surrounding a new moon, making seizures more likely. And then there are the anecdotal accounts of the effects the moon has on sleep

People have long reported that it is harder to get to sleep and remain asleep when the moon is full, and even after a seemingly good night’s rest, there can be a faint sluggishness—a sort of full-moon hangover—that is not present on other days. If you’re sleeping on the prairie or in a settler’s cabin with no shades, the simple presence of moonlight is an inescapable explanation. But long after humans moved indoors into fully curtained and climate-controlled homes, the phenomenon has remained. What’s never been clear is whether it’s the real deal—if the moon really does mess with us–or if it’s some combination of imagination and selective reporting, with people who believe in lunar cycles seeing patterns where none exist. Now, a report in the journal Current Biology suggests that the believers have been right all along.

(MORE: National Parks on the Moon? It’s an Excellent Idea)

For a research paper that was just released today, the initial work took place an awful long time ago. In 2000, a team of investigators from the University of Basel, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and the Switzerland Centre for Sleep Medicine, recruited 33 volunteers and studied them in a sleep lab on and off over the course of three years. The investigators gathered a range of data—brain wave activity during sleep as measured by electroencephalograms (EEG); levels of melatonin, a sleep-related hormone; the amount of time it took subjects to fall asleep and the amount of time they spent in deep sleep; and their subjective reports of how rested they felt the next day. All of it was intended to learn more about human sleep patterns in a general way and, more specifically, how they are affected by age and gender. Only a decade later did the investigators realize that they may be able to re-crunch the data to learn about the moon.

“The aim of exploring the influence of different lunar phases on sleep regulation was never a priori hypothesized,” they wrote in a wonderfully candid passage in their  paper. “We just thought of it after a drink in a local bar one evening at full moon.”

Thus should all great science be done, since as it turned out, the second look revealed intriguing patterns. On average, the subjects in the study took five minutes longer to fall asleep on the three or four nights surrounding a full moon and they slept for 20 fewer minutes. In addition, EEG activity related to deep sleep fell 30%, melatonin levels were lower and the subjects reported feeling less refreshed the next day than on other days. The subjects slept in a completely darkened lab with no sight of the moon, and none of them—at least from what was known—appeared to have given any thought at all to lunar cycles. And since the moon was not an experimental variable in the original study, it was never mentioned either to the subjects or even among the investigators.

(MORE: The Secret Communion on the Moon)

In terms of scientific reliability, all of this is both good and not so good. A study can’t get more effectively double-blind than if no one is even thinking about the thing you wind up testing for, which makes the findings uniquely objective. On the other hand, the ideal moon study would have been carefully set up to give  equal weight to every night in the lunar cycle. This study—while capturing most of the nights in the month—did so in a less rigorous way.

“The a posteriori analysis is a strength and a weakness,” concedes lead author Christian Cajochen, head of the University of Basel’s Centre for Chronobiology, in an e-mail to TIME. “The strength is that investigators and subject expectations are not likely to influence the results, yet the weakness is that each subject was not studied across all lunar phases.”

Even if the moon has as significant an effect on sleep as the study suggests, what’s less clear is the mechanism behind it. Dark labs eliminate the variable of light, so that can’t be it. And before you ask, no, it’s not gravity either. The authors stress that while lunar gravity does indeed raise tides in the oceans, it doesn’t on lakes and even many seas. Those bodies are simply too small to feel the effects—to say nothing of human bodies.

Rather, the answer is simply that we, like every other species on Earth, evolved on a particular planet with a particular set of astronomical cycles—day and night, full moons and less full—and our circadian systems adapted. It’s hard to say where the internal clock is in, say, a flowering plant, but in humans, it’s likely in the suprachiasmatic nuclei, a tiny region of the brain near the optic nerve involved in the production of melatonin, certain neurotransmitters and other time-keeping chemicals, all in a rhythm consistent with both its terrestrial and cosmic surroundings. Physically, human beings may be creatures of just this world, but our brains—and our behavior—appear to belong to two.

(VIDEO: Supermoon 2013: The Year’s Biggest, Brightest Moon)

31 comments
NoelleHallstromPelillo
NoelleHallstromPelillo

I have a problem sleeping when there's a full moon even if I don't know it's a full moon.  I have since I was a kid and I'm now 58 years old.  It seems my brain will not shut off during a full moon.  It won't let me rest.  

JannettePierce
JannettePierce

The moon does effect the human body. I am proof of that. Since I was born I have never be able to sleep under a full moon cycle. I was born under a full moon and as a baby my parents said that they could never get me to fall asleep during the three to four day of the full moon cycle. As a child I remember never being able to fall asleep on a full moon night. It was always hard for me to fall asleep or even stay asleep as a child during that time of the month. I would stay up with my curtains drawn and read books or play with my toys under the full moon light. As a child it never made me feel tired or have what is called a full moon hangover. I always felt energized from the moon. 

Now that I'm an adult I have noticed the effects of the moon on me. My female cycle is strongly effected by the full moon, and I still can't sleep during those nights thought the months of the year. As an adult it was hard to cope with not being able to sleep under a full moon night due to work and having a family to take care of. I talked to my doctor about not being able to sleep and if there was anything that could help me. They subscribed me sleeping medicine but it still didn't work. It was still hard to fall asleep on the medicine and the next day I really could feel the effects of what is called a full moon hangover. It would make me feel sick and tired all day long, and it took my body longer to recover during those nights I took the medicine and there was a full moon night. I keep doing this for a few years and then talked with my doctor and decided that it would be better for me just to deal with it.

 But as the years go buy I have been able to manage my sleep and my life. I have come to enjoy what the moon has done to me over the years. Now as an adult I do get some what tired during the day after a full moon night and I do take naps, but when the night comes I still get the feeling of being energized. Last night was a full moon night and I wasn't able to sleep. So I did what I always do when its a full moon. I just live my life.

VictorDenischik
VictorDenischik

i sleep with a light bulb no problem, tonight cant sleep i feel super energetic like bite your neck and grow claws 

oldboyscout49
oldboyscout49

I have never quite comprehended how the moon can have a varying effect on humans who are shielded by a building. Out doors the light of the full moon might make it a bit harder to go to sleep but indoors you can't see it unless your bed is by a south facing window. The moon is always out there even when you can't see it. The gravitational pull only varies by a small percentage because of the slightly oval shaped orbit it makes around planet earth.

I have always welcomed the full moon. As a kid I loved to be outside especially in summer time. The cool night air was refreshing after a hot sweaty day. The nice thing about the full moon was you could see what was out there. The "boogey man" could not sneak up on you. I look forward to the full moon. I park my lawn chair facing south and watch that big old moon go slowly drifting past. The moonlight is soft, gentle, not harsh like the sun.

I suppose there are people who are affected negatively by the moon because we are all different. Different chemistry, different backgrounds, different outlook on life. But for me the moon is a welcome visitor and I am already counting the days till the next full one.

MatthewPieri
MatthewPieri

woman's cycle is not linked to the moon, but the 28.5 cycle days of the sun

WaltStawicki
WaltStawicki

since some fool simplified Maxwells equations and that was adopted by Einstein and we have been patching and cobling ever since...of course there is no obvious scientific cause.  Time Independent  fields are set up  in "hyperspace" if you will.  These are coarsely called scalar waves.  the are standing waves.  And the geometry matters.  the 3 body earth sun moon.  a three body problem like even still hard in gravity, let alone electromagnetics...and that with the simplified version even!  Like the idiots who try to say em cant harm cells because it does not cook the protein, there is a simple yet idiotic scientific denial for everything that needs a little more looking into.  e.m. does not cook us but it is commonly known among scientists that those fields affect the ion pumps and channels in the neuro membranes.  That is what some of our most effective drugs do to be active.  So lets look at what the complete e.m. field might yield on the biochemical level.  instead of scratching our deriers and saying we cant think up a good reason it shows in the statistics.  undumb the science please!

londog
londog

I saw Mr. Kruger on CBS Early Show this morning and he intimated that gravity doesn't effect us because we don't sleep on the prairie anymore.  Is he really saying that we are immune from the gravitational pull of the moon because we now sleep inside buildings?  Science editor, perhaps.  Scientist?  Nope.  Brick and mortar don't shield us from gravity, sir.  Just as the moon has influence on the earth's tides, it has an effect on the water that our bodies are largely made of.  Do I have a study to prove that?  No, but the gravity theory is really "out in space".

WilfTarquin
WilfTarquin

No.

 If you check the article you'll find that the statistical base is tiny, making the statistical correlation flimsy, and the authors themselves acknowledge that there is a solid body of research showing that the moon has no effect on the human body. One should be aware that even when a statistical correlation of 95% is found, like in this case, it means that there is a 1 in 20 chance that the result  is simply due to chance.


This is, simply put, junk science. For some reason junk science has a much easier time getting coverage in media than the real science.

UjjawalK.Kushwaha
UjjawalK.Kushwaha

Astro Numero Palmists For You 

What you want ? either son or daughter ?

Yes, this question may be challenge to medical science but not for the astrology. Our sages had found out some peculiar secrets of astrological connection with planets role for having a couple son or daughter. You may got son or daughter of your choice if you consult an expert of astrology.

The time of copulation/mating of a husband and wife determines the sex of a progeny. Here planet, moon play the main role by determining the sex of the progeny. How it is the moon? Friends you know that moon completes full its cycle in 28 day; similarly a lady completes its mensturation cycle in 28 days. Likewise, moon is in its full phase in 15 days and a lady's ovule/ovam gets mature and releases in 15 days and if mating take during this day, the lady becomes pregnant. Hence moon is the responsible planet for sex determination.

American scientist also reported that movement of moon in different zodiac is responsible for sex determination of a progeny. For this they conducted a survery in different hospital and got 95 % result accuracy. This secret is known by few and if you follow this chart for a month certainly you will fulfill your desire. Friends I also asked some friends about their last copulation time who were pregnant and predicted the results, surpisingly the results were accurate.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Astro-Numero-Palmists-For-You/438516859537001?ref=stream

flamidey
flamidey

what's your source for your statement that human menstrual cycle is linked to the moon? Metastudies give just the opposite results for now (see wikipedia on menstrual cycle). 

Artificial light does influence cycles in humans and mice.

33 subjects with 5 minutes difference of sleep? Pretty sure that's not enough to draw such a wide conclusion.

TheDisclosure
TheDisclosure

The moon causes sleepwalking. Hmm, interesting time. Research Karl Baron von Reichenbach. It's all there.

PeterJamesHerz
PeterJamesHerz

This study would probably be misleading or contrived unless the subjects were unaware they were being experimented on for this 'effect.' Such a side-effect is known as the Hawthorne Effect in statistical behavioral analysis.

MohitPant
MohitPant

Traditional 'Hindu' astronomy recognised the effects of the moon, upon human behavior and psyche. Let's show them respect and take a few feelers from their science in our scientific research. Sharing other peoples knowledge won't hurt. Of-course science has the valid option of discarding it if were not in sync with it's personal experiments.

gkell1
gkell1

Among the dumbest ideas ever to appear must certainly go to Sir Isaac Newton who misinterpreted  'revolution' in Kepler's astronomical treatise for 'rotation' hence we have generations of Newton's followers who are convinced the moon also spins as it makes it monthly circuit of the Earth -

http://books.google.ie/books?id=OdCJAS0eQ64C&pg=PA80&lpg#v=onepage&q&f=false


This should make the front cover of TIME  as people have about as much a chance of demonstrating a spinning moon where all sides of it are seen as they have of showing images of a flat Earth - it really is that bad !.


KevinA
KevinA

So... have all mammals with estrous cycles evolved so they are in synch with the moon?  If not, why not?

AndrewTurvey
AndrewTurvey

Fascinating! I've always been disappointed at the way that the scientific community are so dismissive of traditional instincts for things like this. Yes let's do some proper research so we can rationalise the mechanisms through which these things occur, but please lets drop this arrogant attitude towards traditional knowledge.

oldboyscout49
oldboyscout49

@MatthewPieri   You have introduced something I have never heard of.

The time between full moons is 29.53 days on average. There is a slight variation but not more then .8. The moon itself has a day length of 28.5 earth days. If you lived ON the moon, it would take 28.5 earth days for you to see a sunset to sunset.

The only cycle I am familiar with regarding the sun is the sunspots which are approximately 11 years apart. Please explain the figure you supplied.

ZacPetit
ZacPetit

@londog Please. Of course the gravity of the moon effects us, it just doesn't do so in any obviously measurable manner, as I'm sure the person in question was suggesting.

Randilynn'Hollister'Kenagy
Randilynn'Hollister'Kenagy

@WilfTarquin 

And what you just spewed out is called science junk. So because some fool told you this , and now your telling us we should beleive it right? Your saying this study that was done over a three year period was all for nothing and they must have thousands more people and many more studys for ANYONE to beleive this. My opinion is that your opinion is wrong and the scientist's that did the study are right, ( the moon may indeed have an impact on us).

goblue562
goblue562

@flamidey You use Wikipedia as a credible source?  Wow.  Just...      wow.

Mintaka
Mintaka

@gkell1 Quite the contrary to gkell1's assertion, the dominant misconception among beginning astronomy students (my personal experience since the 60's) is that the Moon does NOT spin. ZacPetit is/are correct that the Moon does spin (rotate). Otherwise, we would eventually see all portions of the Lunar equator over time. Instead, the portions we can observe are fairly fixed.

Fillybuster2
Fillybuster2

@AndrewTurvey I completely agree. I am always amused when science proves something we already know. 

This statement is definitely not out of disrespect for science. Science is also effective at disproving those of our myths that hamper society.

Mintaka
Mintaka

I believe you are mistaken on the length of a day on the Moon - it MUST equal the length of the phase cycle. If you select a point on the eastern edge of the Moon (toward the left for us in Earth's northern hemisphere), that point will first receive light from the Sun at the exact moment a Full Moon is seen from Earth. That also means that sunrise occurs at that location at that time, and it causes the time until the next FM to be the length of a day on the Moon - which you correctly identified as 29.53 days (on average). I do concur with you that the 28.5 days cited by MatthewPieri as relating to a solar cycle is in error.

In your previous post (oldboyscout49), you mention that you "have never quite comprehended" how the Moon can have an effect on people who are indoors and hence are shielded from the Moon's light. My answer is that the periodicity of the varying amount of light from the Moon MAY HAVE BEEN imprinted into our genes over thousands of generations, as the human menstrual cycle synchronized itself to the dominant nighttime lighting cycle. This is an hypothesis, not a proven fact. But it seems to me to provide a plausible connection between the two cycles.


FWIW, I choose to capitalize the 'M' in 'Moon' whenever I write of Earth's only natural satellite. If I wish to refer to the category of objects that orbit planets, I do not capitalize. I learned this convention in my first Astronomy class many years ago, and it makes sense to me - 'Moon' is the proper name of our moon, and for that matter 'Sun' is the proper name of our star. And we capitalize proper nouns.

ZacPetit
ZacPetit

@Randilynn'Hollister'Kenagy @WilfTarquin He does make at least one valid point. A sample size of so few test subjects is not nearly enough to draw correlations to the entire human species. However, he does seem to miss a point the author was clear to make: although the moon does not directly effect the human body, our species may have nonetheless adapted over the course of our existence to have certain behaviors triggered by the phases of the moon.

Mintaka
Mintaka

@Fillybuster2 @AndrewTurvey  

Science is the invention of our species to decide which information is correct. Many of our greatest breakthroughs have come by questioning things we "already knew". By a combination of hypothesizing, testing, and retesting, we sometimes find gems for discovery that were hiding in plain sight. Think of Einstein, contemplating the nature of time. Many of his contemporaries may have felt that they "already knew" what time is - - why bother to question that understanding? Of course, now we can see at least some of the results of questioning it - a completely different conception of the Universe, and (on a practical level) GPS technology. Without taking Einstein's revised understanding of time into account, GPS systems would not function correctly.

And we can't know in advance which ideas are wrong. So the amusement you feel is in response to a confirmation (for now) of an old idea. We can feel more confident in believing the correctness of that idea, because of that testing. But given a long time, someone may test that idea again in a new way, and we may find a means of prolonging life or of traveling to the stars.